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The Escape (Ha’Bricha):  A Film by Meni Elias cover photo

The Escape (Ha’Bricha): A Film by Meni Elias 2013


Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films Ltd., P.O.Box 7153, Jerusalem, 91071, ISRAEL
Produced by Micha Shagrir and Tal Barda
Directed by Meni Elias
DVD , color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Jewish Holocaust (1939-1945), Judaism

Date Entered: 10/16/2013

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Europe’s anti-Semitism did not end after World War II. It continued to cause untold grief for Jews who survived the Holocaust. One solution to their harassment and rejection as they tried to resume their lives was to leave Europe and go to live in Palestine. A movement that became known as “The Escape” (or, in Hebrew, “Ha’Bricha”) attempted to overcome the twin obstacles to achieving that goal: the refusal of many European countries to allow Jews to leave and the denial on the part of Palestine’s British government to allow them to enter Palestine. As one would expect, The Escape depended on aid from local people to hide, sustain, and transport migrating Jews who were crossing their borders, and help them on to their destination.

In this film, a group of eight Israeli teenagers travel to Europe to reenact one of the Escape journeys (there were several routes). They start in Kielce, Poland, where a 1946 massacre of Jews led to the origin of the movement. They are a mixture of young men and women from widely divergent backgrounds—gay and straight, Jew and Arab, comfortable and poor, urban and rural—and the film devotes valuable footage to depicting their struggles to come to grips with their own personal issues as well as how they learn to relate to their peers.

The group meets and is hosted along the way by local people—some from the generation that lived through World War II and others from more recent generations—who once participated in The Escape or are trying to keeping its memory alive. The hosts include both Jews and non-Jews who explain the significance of the places the group visits and explores, learning how escapees were shielded from the authorities and moved along the way. Elderly Escape participants make brief appearances relating their experiences and recollections.

Much of the filming, especially in Austria, shows beautiful, bucolic, peaceful landscapes that belie the horrors that occurred there during the 1940s. A few still bear an aura of poverty, deprivation, and cruelty. The most startling stop is at Ebensee, where a village of pretty little homes sits atop a former concentration camp and crematorium. Elderly inhabitants remember the war period well, but say they have no problems about living there now.

The Escape Movement might be so well known in Israel that it needs little introduction, the way our anti-slavery “Underground Railroad” is in America, but for non-Israeli viewers, the lack of much explanatory background makes the first part of the film something of a mystery. It eventually becomes clear, but this reviewer had to turn to the Internet to learn about the movement before understanding the film, and only appreciated it fully on a second viewing. Viewers should receive some preparation, but, at the end of the day, it is worth the effort.